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Influences

September 23, 2008

I was sitting at the Guelph Jazz Festival waiting for Tortoise to come onstage for their show.  I’ve never really paid any attention to Tortoise, but am certainly aware that they seem to have been a central band to a certain generation that was getting into music in the early 90’s.  The introduction of the band caused me to wind up thinking throughout the entire show … they were referred to as the godfathers (or some such thing) of “post-rock”.  While I understand that theirs was an important moment, I definitely wasn’t sold on the idea that they were originators of anything … in fact, hardly anyone is. As I listened, a lot of ideas flowed thorugh my head.

I realized right away that if someone asked me what I thought about the show on the way out, I would just have to say “krautrock”.  The band themselves wouldn’t be confused by this  … they readily admit the influences.  I almost laughed when they took their positions on the stage in a distinctly Kraftwerk-like style … fortunately, not quite so rigid and machine-like as Kraftwerk, but definitely with that disconnected and mechanistic style and attitude that was maximized by the wacky germans.  But Kraftwerk was too simple … there was more going on here.  I started thinking about them in the same way that I did radio … listen, and think of what would go well with this music, or what is echoed in this music.  This means not only just what the music sounds like it, or what the band themselves claimed to be influenced by, but also the textures, tones, and moods that are coming through.

Tortoise clearly wasn’t a starting point of anything, but as almost all bands, a point on a continuum that had been flowing along for some time. They seem to bring this sound into the 90s, but this seemed so unusual, perhaps, because the late 80s had been dominated by a return of post-New-Wave stoner rock that became know as grunge (I guess).  But this music sounded an awful lot, tone-wise, like some of the original post-punk … chilly, alienated … what came out in early Joy Division, Public Image Ltd … or maybe even more like the Swell Maps.  I could even tie this to Vini Reilly and the Durruti Column with his cool, alienated, yet beautiful sounds.  Ah, but all of that was very much influenced by David Bowie in his Low period and the other album recorded in Berlin, Heroes.  I could very much hear echoes of this Bowie music in Tortoise, and that was kind of weird, and nice.  But Bowie hadn’t invented this sound and mood … the fact that he was in Berlin when all of this music was created and recorded is important … he had heard Krautrock.  Bowie was kind of like Madonna (if you will) … he discovered cool things that other people weren’t paying attention to (yet), and surfaced them.  He clearly had discovered Can and Neu!, Krautrock staples, and had borrowed their sounds for his albums of alienation (in fact, Low has a picture of Bowie from The Man Who Fell to Earth on the cover … extreme alienation), and drug rehab.  Can was more free-wheeling and dynamic than Tortoise, but the influence is there … but Neu! … the connection between the two was obvious.  (you must hear Neu’s debut, or Neu!75 … absolute classics).  

From here things get a little murky … Brian Eno certainly fits in here somewhere … The sounds on his Here Come the Warm Jets album really remind me of this whole thread of sounds over time … did it start there, in 1973?  Probably not … there were certainly progressive sounds in the 60’s and early 70’s that set the tone for all of this, and maybe some more experimental stuff before that.  Henry Cow, Slapp happy … various European weirdos … more homework to do. That was what I could come up with sitting at a Tortoise concert.

So, if reading my mind is of interest … this is actually how it works.

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